Tag Archives: pbl

7 Methods to Make PBL Contagious

One of my favorite parts of leading Project Based Learning workshops is watching teachers transform from an attitude of fear or doubt about PBL, to confidence and excitement. Many administrators task their teachers to lead professional development about PBL when they return. Since the teachers are novices on the topic this request can feel frightening or overwhelming.

Other teachers attend PBL workshops with a only a few colleagues or by themselves. They are excited to share their learning with teachers and administration back at their school. Both groups frequently ask, “How can we effectively bring PBL back to the rest of our staff and/or administration at our school.”

The situations vary. The principal or teachers at their school may or may not be interested in PBL. Here are some suggestions to spread the PBL love to your colleagues and your administration, no matter what their current commitment to it is.

Protocols

Instead of giving a slide presentation summarizing what PBL is, run a protocol at a staff meeting or other PD. The best way for adults to learn is through experience, so try a Jigsaw of a PBL article or watch a project video followed by a Harkness Protocol. After experiencing the protocol, teachers can collaboratively plan out how to implement it in their classrooms. This will not only introduce teachers to aspects of PBL, but will build a school wide culture as different teachers are using the same protocols in their varied classrooms.

One middle school that I worked with, uses their late start days as an opportunity for student groups to come in early and run the Tuning Protocol. Students get helpful feedback on their projects. The school invites teachers and administrators from other schools in their district to visit and see what PBL looks like. They are spreading the PBL love throughout their school system.

Classroom Observations

Invite colleagues into your classroom to observe PBL “in the wild.” Seeing is believing! The best way to get others excited about PBL and to help them understand the shifts that it entails is for them to see it in action. Teachers could be part of an authentic audience for practice presentations, or they could be experts helping students in the middle of a project.

Don’t just invite teachers for the final presentation day. Schedule them to visit on a normal workday too. Observations are most effective when teachers have a list of specific things to look for. Hand them this rubric to record observations to discuss later in a PLC. Encourage teachers to ask students what they are doing and why. One effective way to organize classroom observations is to have your principal get a rotating sub for the day so different teachers can observe for an hour each.

Student Panel

At your next staff meeting organize a student panel to tell about their PBL experiences. Kids can describe their favorite projects, challenges, areas of growth, and how the PBL framework motivates them to do their best work. Practice with your students ahead of time, so they know what kind of questions they will be asked. Encourage your kids to be themselves and share honest stories about their PBL experiences.

Don’t just pick high achieving students either, but be sure to include a mixture of kids from various backgrounds. Students who have struggled in school academically or behaviorally in the past but are excited about PBL can provide strong evidence for other teachers to give it a try. In my experience, nothing “sells” PBL better than students sharing!

Stories

The most powerful way to spread PBL at your school is through stories. Stories are what make classroom observations and student panels so powerful. Experts tell us that logic and rational reasoning alone will not lead to change. People must feel an emotional need to make a change, and stories accomplish this!

Stories can come from your classroom or you can show examples of PBL from other schools. Another way to collect stories is to have your students record reflections during the project. Provide them with prompts about their content learning, engagement, and how their groups are functioning. These stories will not only document their personal successes, but are feedback for you to improve future projects.

The most powerful stories are ones that show growth in students, especially in areas of motivation. Many teachers have misconceptions about what PBL is, and stories help them see clearly how they could adopt it. The truth is, when most teachers learn how PBL actually works, they are affirmed by the aspects that they are already doing.

Advertise

Don’t just keep all of those stories in house. When students complete high quality work that is relevant to the school and the community, it’s time to brag. Call up your local journalists and TV stations and let them know about what your kids are accomplishing. Publish your project in the school or district newsletter. Public education gets enough negative publicity. It’s time for teachers to share amazing stories of the meaningful work that students are doing.

The other way to share is on social media. This can create strong connections with parents and the community. If you need to convince your administrator about PBL, advertising is effective too. When she sees positive press or gets excited calls from parents about your students’ projects, your principal will see the value of the PBL framework.

Pilot

This technique is specifically for teachers who don’t have administrative support to try PBL. Your principal may not be “against” PBL. But you may have common assessments that are not congruent with your project idea or you may have a reading or math block with scripted curriculum that must be followed lockstep. The magic word to navigate these kinds of obstacles is pilot. Tell your principal:

“I just attended an incredible workshop on Project Based Learning and I think that it is exactly the personalized approach that our students need. With your permission, I would like to pilot a project in class and see how students respond.”

The beauty of the word pilot is, it not only grants permission, but it assumes there will be some bumps along the road as you experiment with something new. If necessary, show administration research or better yet share success stories of PBL in other settings similar to your school. Chances are your principal supports the tenets of PBL already, but may not know how to get permission from her superior. “Pilot” creates the perfect scenario.

Workshops

Of course, once teachers and administration are getting excited about PBL and ready to dive in, there is no substitute for high quality professional development. Making the shift to student-centered PBL can be a frightening transition, especially for traditional teachers. A multiple day, PBL workshop lead by an experienced practitioner will give teachers both the skills and the confidence to launch a project in their classroom.

Rome wasn’t built in a day and your school won’t make a dramatic transition to PBL overnight. Take small steps and don’t forget to continue the conversations about your victories and struggles in PLC’s. Seek out continued professional development throughout the journey. Remember it’s not about the product, but the process!

Questions? Interested in a PBL workshop or consulting?  Connect with me at michaelkaechele.com or @mikekaechele onTwitter.

When Students Don’t Work

Going to school isn’t a job. Students don’t get paid. And yes, they are forced to be there. Therefore I am always hesitant to apply business advice to schools. But more and more I am seeing that project management strategies often do apply to student groups in PBL.

In 4 Reasons Good Employees Lose their Motivation on the Harvard Business Review, they identify the following causes of a lack of motivation:

  • Values mismatch
  • Lack of self efficacy
  • Disruptive emotions
  • Attribution errors

In order to help an employee find motivation, the the proper “trap” should be identified leading to applying the appropriate solution. I believe this can be adapted to leading a class of collaborative groups using PBL.

Values Mismatch

This trap can be summarized as “I don’t care enough to do this.” I would argue that this is the most prevalent motivational problem that we have in school because of our one size fits all, mandated curriculum. PBL is a great approach because it gives the teacher freedom to customize their class to their students’ interests and abilities.

The first step in fixing a values mismatch is to know your students. Build relationships with your kids and discover their passions. Then PBL projects can be designed to connect with them. I have even designed an entire class project with only one student in mind, that is struggling to engage in my class. Students will find more value in a class where they have a positive relationship with the teacher and they feel like the content addresses issues that matter to them.

Lack of Self Efficacy

In this trap students are saying “I don’t think that I am able to do this.” Except students rarely say this out loud. Instead they avoid the task with disruptive behavior or shut down by sleeping or daydreaming. Oftentimes this student tries to hide the embarrassment of lack of ability or belief in themselves from both the teacher and other students. It is crucial that teachers see through these smokescreens and identify the real cause of student actions.

Again the first step is knowing your students and then applying the appropriate scaffolds to help them succeed. Have you identified your students who are EL or special ed? What about the students who don’t have an official “label” but need support? Show students quality examples and give them outlines and other scaffolds to get started. Acknowledge when they are successful to help them build confidence. Most importantly remove scaffolds when students don’t need them anymore and point out the growth to students.

“Remember at the beginning of the year, you needed my help to multiply fractions. Now you can do it all by yourself!”

Disruptive Emotions

Sometimes students are feeling that “I am too upset to do this.” One of the reasons that I like to start class by meeting kids at the door is to check on their emotional state when they get there. This goes back to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. If students are angry or depressed, then they will not be able to focus on school.

Be a caring listener. Have a private conversation with the student and hear out what is bothering them. I often ask students if they would like to talk to a counselor or another trusted adult if I can’t give them the time that they need during class. We rarely can fix whatever is bothering them in the middle of a busy class but students must know that we care about their well being more than the content that we teach. Ask students if they think that can do the tasks of the class that day. Once they have been truly heard, most students can focus on what they need to.

Attribution Errors

This trap is when students say, “I don’t know what went wrong with this.” I think in schools this is usually an avoidance ploy of the above, Lack of Self Efficacy variety. Students (and adults too) don’t want to admit failures or weaknesses so they shift to excuses of “I was too busy” or blaming group members for not completing tasks.

One solution that can help student groups is teaching them to hold each other accountable. I like to use a Student Scrum Board or Trello for groups to regulate themselves. With a clear plan for project management, then students can focus on the actual problem of lack of skills or perhaps a values mismatch as being the real reason that work is not being completed.

None of these are magic, but it is always important to know our students and to properly assess why they may not be successful on a given day. I also think that it is critical to their growth to acknowledge what has been holding them back and how they have overcome it. Then the next time that they are feeling unmotivated they can learn to self analyze the cause and self correct.